One week after last Tuesday’s Democratic primary, the Albany County Board of Elections began the long process of counting the more than 20,000 paper absentee and affidavit ballots that were returned by mail.
“We’ve been busy, we’ll continue to be busy for the next few days,” said Matt Clyne, the county’s Democratic elections commissioner. “It’s a painstaking operation; it’s a ballot-by-ballot review.”
While he says it only slightly boosted overall voter turnout, Clyne says they received roughly five times the number of paper ballots they’d get in a typical primary and double what would be expected in a November general election.
“This is unusually large. We’ve never had anything of this magnitude,” Clyne said.
The reason for the increase was an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo requiring county election boards to mail paper ballots to every eligible voter. While the measure was designed to reduce crowds at polling places and limit the spread of the coronavirus, Clyne says it’s leading to a much slower canvassing process.
“It’s much faster to do it through the machines,” Clyne said during a break in Tuesday’s count. “You get the results that night, that’s it, and there’s no contest as long as there’s no indication the logic or accuracy of the machines are off.”
Governor Cuomo has yet to sign a similar order in advance of the general election, but with limited time to plan for it, Clyne fears having to repeat this process in November would be overwhelming for election boards across the state.
“We’re struggling to respond to just a primary election,” Clyne said. “In a general election where you have all parties voting, if this were to continue, it would be problematic to say the least.”
Clyne says staff have already worked overtime to sort and organize the returns. As campaign representatives observe and, in some instances, challenge the ballots being counted, he says the process could take several days.
“As long as the race is still perceived to be in play by both camps, by both sides, then you’re not going to have any quick movement,” Clyne said.